It’s already been over four years since Mortal Kombat X turned up the gore factor for the fighting genre. Does the iconic brutal fighter still have some tricks up its sleeve, or has this world of microtransactions muddied things up too much? Read our Mortal Kombat 11 review as we see if NetherRealm’s latest has what it takes to keep fans coming back for more.
Mortal Kombat 11 Review – Start Simple
For those who are new to Mortal Kombat, want a refresher, or maybe who intend on mastering one of the game’s new playable characters, MK 11 offers extensive tutorials. Things start off pretty basic, with tasks such as moving, dashing, jumping, and blocking, but things quickly escalate. Before long, you’re learning things such as frame data, frame advantage counts, moves that are “safe on block” or “unsafe on block,” amplifying moves, and much more. Timing is everything in a fighting game, and for those just getting started it can be difficult to discern the kind of timing that is expected of players. Thankfully, every single lesson includes the ability to watch the computer perform the move featured in the current lesson by pressing the touchpad button. An onscreen controller appears as well, showing the inputs.
To top things off, each character also has their own tutorial, so that their special moves can not only be learned, but also applied in the proper context. One issue we did notice is that occasionally, a direction label was incorrect. This was only noticed on the Kollector, a new character for the series. For each lesson, a demo showing the computer running through the taught moves was shown, and a few instances cropped up where even the computer-controlled characters were not performing the combo or action properly, though the on-screen controller showed the proper combinations and timings.
The newest mechanic in Mortal Kombat 11 is the Fatal Blow. Once a player’s health dips below 30%, they can trigger this special attack by pressing L2 and R2 together. If the hit connects (it can still miss or be blocked/countered), then a devastating set of unblockable, high-damage moves specific to each character is performed. This move can only be performed once per match, giving a measure of hope to players who find themselves losing a round. Usually, if the opponent also has under 30% health remaining, the fatal blow is a guaranteed victory, so if neither player has used their yet the game can quickly become a battle of timing.
Offensive and defensive bars take place of straight energy bars in other fighting games, and can be used to amplify certain moves under the right conditions. Liu Kang’s flying dragon kick, Scorpion’s infamous spear, and others can cause more damage than usual by pressing the R1 button while the move is being performed, for instance. Meanwhile, delaying getting back up after being knocked down, or surprising enemies with a special offensive “Getup” move can help get players back into the fight if they’ve been knocked around. There is a lot of strategy to any Mortal Kombat game, and 11 appears to offer some of the most comprehensive options in the series.
A Beautiful Coagulating Bloody Mess
The upgrade from the Unreal Engine 3 to Unreal Engine 4 is immediately noticeable. It feels weird to say, but Mortal Kombat 11 is beautiful. Its gore is alarming, sure, but the detail in this brutality is wonderful. Reports have come in that MK 11 runs at 60 frames per second no matter which platform the game is played on. On the PS4 Pro, the game is played at a dynamic resolution, varying anywhere from 2240×1260 to 3200×1800. Coupled with good HDR support, Mortal Kombat 11 is one of the best-looking fighters available, never mind it also being the best-looking Mortal Kombat game to date. This is especially evident during any of the many gruesome fatalities, as the action slows down to a crawl to let players take in the gore. During these sequences, massive amounts of blood pours out of the sorry receiver of the fatality, which usually ends up exposing sinew, bones, and organs (brains are a popular item to show off during these moves). It all looks so crisp, and painful.
Audio work is also top-notch in Mortal Kombat 11. There are multiple announcers to choose from, tons of audio tracks (including several to unlock in the Time Towers and Krypt), and of course a fully-voiced cast. As bodies get tossed around the various levels, or ripped apart, every jab, slice, and tear sounds enjoyably repulsive.
Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode is the series’ biggest foray into cinematic storytelling yet. With a play time of 8–10 hours for most players depending on difficulty and player skill, it’s easily one of the longest story modes for any fighting game. There are stretches where players won’t participate in fights for several minutes at a time, as the complex story unfolds. New antagonist Kronika controls time, which is the perfect excuse to bring back characters from older games. Those unfamiliar with the events of the previous game may miss out on a few references, but generally Mortal Kombat 11’s story is easy to get into, and easily passable on the Medium difficulty setting.
Mortal Kombat 11 Review – Be Your Own Krypt Keeper
The Krypt makes an appearance again in Mortal Kombat 11. This time, players explore Shang Tsung’s island as a nondescript warrior, in a third-person perspective. Key items from fallen fighters can be picked up, which aid in exploration. There are multiple areas to unlock and discover, many of which will take a small fortune to open all of the area’s chests. The first visit to the Krypt, provided the player has earned enough in-game currency, can last at least a couple of hours. There are treasure chests placed in random locations across a sprawling, deserted, deadly area which has iconic scenery from Mortal Kombat games both new and old.
Which brings us to what will no doubt be a point of contention amongst some players. There are not one, not two, but four different types of currencies in Mortal Kombat 11. There are Koins, which are the easiest to come by and will unlock most chests in the Krypt. Next are Soul Fragments, which are used to unlock different items in the Krypt, or open up certain paths. Hearts are used on specific chests in the Krypt, presumably for rarer rewards (though this is never confirmed in-game). All three of these main currencies can be used in the Forge, an area within the Krypt dedicated to crafting Konsumable items for use in the Towers of Time. Finally, Time Krystals are a premium currency, which can be earned in-game but also purchased for real-world money. While most unlockables can be earned without paying, it seems that Shao Khan is only available as a pre-order bonus. Otherwise, he costs $5.99 to unlock. This means that if you’re reading this review and have not yet purchased a copy of Mortal Kombat 11, then the only way to play as Shao Khan is to pony up some additional money. Another premium character, Frost, can be purchased for the same price, but she can also be unlocked by simply playing the story mode through the fourth chapter.
NetherRealm Studios has brought their version of customization from Injustice to Mortal Kombat 11. This time around, however, what a character has equipped does not affect their available abilities. All characters have three slots of moves, which can be mixed and matched almost with impunity. A few moves conflict with others, meaning they cannot be equipped at the same time, while some abilities require others to be equipped. Outside of those restrictions, this is a fun way to customize characters’ looks without worrying about whether a particular cosmetic affects gameplay.
Mortal Kombat 11 Review – Augmented Abilities
Character gear can be equipped with augments, which have various boosts to help players gain an advantage. While ranked online matches prohibit the use of these augments, other game modes allow them. The Towers of Time mode, which features a rotating list of matches with various modifications to the traditional ruleset, does allow for augments. This mode also offers Konsumable items to be earned, which can be used for individual fights or for the duration of the entire tower. They offer extra armor, a restoration of health, or even assistance from other characters mid-battle, by simply flicking the right analog stick in a given direction. It’s an interesting mechanic that takes some getting used to, but can be handy in a pinch.
These customized characters can be turned into AI-controlled champions, who can go out and battle on players’ behalf against other player-created AI characters. This is a relatively low-effort way of grinding some of Mortal Kombat 11’s currencies, and another way to play. It’s also an entirely optional mode that players don’t have to touch if they don’t want to, and it’s not forced down gamers’ throats either.
Mortal Kombat 11 Review – Don’t Go to Sleep
There are a lot of single-player modes available in Mortal Kombat 11. Problem is, many of them require a constant internet connection. For most players, this won’t really be a problem. But even putting the PS4 into standby mode will cause problems for many. While the application will stay suspended, its network connections will not. Resuming the system from sleep mode will usually result in a return to the title screen, thus losing any progress in a tower. It’s an annoyance some gamers will have to work around, as it means that taking a break to eat or run an errand must be done with the PS4 at full power with its power saving options disabled or set to an extremely long timeout, unless a match is not currently in progress.
Mortal Kombat 11 is the best-looking, best-sounding, and best-playing Mortal Kombat game to date. While not everyone’s favorite character may be playable at launch, DLC will most likely fill in the gaps. Some gamers may take issue with the microtransactions included, but outside of Shao Khan, almost everything is obtainable without paying actual money (there are some premium skins that rotate through). The solid fighting mechanics, lengthy story mode, beautifully grotesque presentation, consistent performance, countless unlockables, and customization options all add up to an overall enjoyable experience that fighting game fans should not miss.
Mortal Kombat 11 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.